Q: what, exactly, did Orville Wright invent? A: a mailbox

January 22nd, 2017

Many people associate the name Orville Wright with the invention of the airplane.

However, Orville Wright invented — and patented — a combined mailbox and lamp:


Was the prayer nut filled with gunk?

January 21st, 2017

“The prayer nut” is the subject of this video, which zeroes in on the question: Was the prayer nut filled with some kind of gunk? Research, careful research, hints that it may indeed have been filled with gunk, and that that gunk may have included fragrant herbs, one of which may have been cannabis.

The maker of the video tells what the prayer nut is. The prayer nut is, in this telling, “a microscopically carved medieval devotional.” The scientist in the video, he who probes the innards of the prayer nut, is Joris Dik.


This is not the only prayer nut. You can visit a prayer nut in The British Museum, in London. You can purchase prayer nuts. You can make prayer nuts, if you have the desire, the time, and perhaps the talent.

Really, there are few limits to what you can do with regard to a prayer nut.

The prize-winning lecture about recognizing bullshit

January 20th, 2017

The 2016 Ig Nobel Peace Prize winners explain about people’s craving for bullshit, in their Ig Informal Lecture, as you see in this video:

The prize was awarded to Gordon Pennycook, James Allan Cheyne, Nathaniel Barr, Derek Koehler, and Jonathan Fugelsang for their scholarly study called “On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bullshit”.

The details of that study: “On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bullshit,” Gordon Pennycook, James Allan Cheyne, Nathaniel Barr, Derek J. Koehler, and Jonathan A. Fugelsang, Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 10, No. 6, November 2015, pp. 549–563.

Two days after the ceremony, at the Ig Informal Lectures, the new winners give brief public talks, at MIT, to explain what they did and why they did it. That’s what you see in this video.

January issue of mini-AIR

January 19th, 2017

The January issue of mini-AIR just went out. (mini-AIR is a wee little supplement to the magnificent magazine Annals of Improbable Research.) Topics include:

  • The P-p-p-p-Power of the Words, Words, Words
  • News about the upcoming events in NYC, Boston, and Europe
  • “PPP versus PPPP — What is Wrong in Denmark?”
  • and more
It also has info about upcoming events. And events that are upcoming.

Mel [pictured here] says, “It’s swell.”

mini-AIR is the simplest way to keep informed about Improbable and Ig Nobel news and events.

Want mini-AIR e-mailed to you every month? Just opt in!

Is your dog watching TV?

January 19th, 2017

dogciIf you’d like to scientifically determine whether your dog (or any other dog) is watching TV, you could try using a high-quality method of face tracking (from a Human Computer Interaction [HCI] standpoint) as suggested by PhD researcher Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas and Prof. Janet C Read from the Animal Computer Interaction Design (ACID), a research group at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), UK. They have noted that :

“Dogs have continually been reported to view television screens but there is diminutive knowledge behind this phenomenon.“

Their line of enquiry :

“[…] brings forward the possibility of animals having meaningful interaction with the TV screen and suggests ways to possibly quantify and build methods to create animal-computer-interaction.”

see: ‘Is My Dog Watching TV?’ (NordiCHI’14. Animal Computer Interaction Workshop, 2014)

Since then however, new work by the team (along with Dr. Brendan Cassidy) found that when dogs are presented with a choice of more than one screen (specifically 3), things are considerably less clear :

“ The findings provide evidence that when dogs are presented with three screens they are unable to follow through three screen variations on what to watch. There is a possibility that a central placement is the preference. On average the dogs had a low mean view time per interaction and seemed content to glance across the multiple screens. Overall, even though the content subject within the videos was different and proved to be appealing to the dogs, the dogs, when confronted with three screen options, preferred to watch nothing.”

dogci2And, in summary :

“The dogs in this study chose to not watch TV over any TV content; even Coronation Street failed to hold their attention which rather suggests that TV watching, for dogs, maybe much less fun than wandering around, eating, taking a drink, sleeping and playing with toys.” [our hyperlink]

See: A dog centred approach to the analysis of dogs’ interactions with media on TV screens – awaiting publication in the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies.

BONUS[1]: Those wishing to further examine the world of Dog-TV Interaction may explore the output of “The First TV Channel For Dogs” DOGTV.

BONUS[2]: Andrew Dost (of the indie rock band Fun) composes music for dogs (ABC report)


COMING SOON: Cow-Computer Interaction